malware from vpn

The Perils and Pitfalls of Free VPNs

VPNs Can Help Your Organization’s Cybersecurity

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) create private and secure tunnels through public Internet space in which we nest our networks. They give us anonymity, protect our resources, and often allow us to get around geo-specific barriers to software and services. But you know all that. There are paid VPN services and free VPN services, but you know that, too. Often, in this world of getting the most with spending the least, our wallets (or, rather, those of our bosses) predicate examining VPNs that cost nothing. But be warned: just because you’re not paying for something doesn’t mean you won’t pay for it.


Everything Has a Cost

Nothing online is really free—everything comes at a cost. You might not realize what the cost is, but it’s always there. So, what are the hidden costs of a free VPN service?


In an independent study by CSIRO, 283 VPN-based Android apps were analyzed. One of the key findings was over 38% of the apps had some sort of malware presence. Though this study was done on Android apps, you can easily extrapolate that these statistics are likely very similar to apps and services on other platforms.

malware from vpn

Third-Party Tracking

In the same study, it was found that 75% of apps used third-party tracking libraries. The top two trackers were Google Ads and Google Analytics, but the paper also pointed out that some of the least common tracking libraries used in all apps were the most prevalent in VPN apps. Some of this makes sense: instead of charging you for the app, the developer is relying on ad revenue. But the pervasiveness and quantity of these trackers is still worrying.

Third-Party Access to Private Information

82% of the apps analyzed in this study requested permissions to access more private information. Some wanted access to SMS messages, while others wanted to view other apps’ activities or read system logs. This last permission is categorized by Android as “highly sensitive,” as it can “expose personal information (including passwords).” Again, some of these permissions can be explained as being normal for the services offered, but the depths at which these free VPN apps are gaining access to your resources and protected information is troublesome.

sensitive and private information

Internet Throttling

Another way free VPNs can make money is by enticing you to opt for paid versions of their free services. The easiest way to do this is through tiers of service. You want free? Okay, that’s fine—but you’ll have to put up with low speeds and a very limited amount of data that can be transferred per day. Want the service you thought you were getting? Well, just take out your credit card and upgrade to the premium package.

Sale of Private Data

This is a little different than allowing third-party apps to access your data; this is the explicit selling of the data you provided when you created an account, as well as your usage statistics, to third parties. Luckily, due to GDPR and other privacy laws, this exploitation of private data does need to be spelled out for potential customers (it just might mean you have to read lots of fine print before you sign up).

Sale of Bandwidth

This one isn’t common, but it has happened. Hola’s free services allow users to get around geo-specific barriers to watch videos and TV shows. However, they also run another paid proxy site called Luminati. What do these two sites have in common? Basically, Hola has been selling unused bandwidth from its free Hola users to its paid Luminati users. And what has this bandwidth been used for? In one example, it was used as a botnet to run multiple DoS attacks against an online forum. What else is the bandwidth of free users being used for (other than making money for the company providing the free service)? No one knows.

botnet attack from vpn

Is A Free VPN Worth It?

In short, yes and no. You must do your research and read any and all fine print before agreeing to grant access or move traffic. And remember, some free VPN apps are better (read: safer) than others. However, always keep in mind these words from Ryan O’Leary, president of the Threat Research Center at WhiteHat Security, “The lower the cost of the [VPN] app, the greater the chance they have security problems. . . . At best, they are using ads to earn income. At worst, they are selling your private information. . . . When done correctly, VPNs are a good option [for extra security]. But never forget that, in the end, you get what you pay for. “

benefits of a VDI

Benefits of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Hardware: The Old-Fashioned Approach

In the past, adding computers to your organization was easy. It normally involved spec’ing out new hardware, purchasing it, installing it into your network, and then getting belittled by users who were unhappy with the machine’s capabilities. Like any decision, adding new computers is always a compromise: budget vs. tech vs. amount of time till obsolescence. It’s a balance that’s never perfect, especially when scaled up to an organizational level.

Once you have your computers though, you’re chained to them for quite some time. Often, they determine where your organization can operate (i.e., desktop computers predicate staying in office, while laptops allow for more freedom to travel) which, in some respects, dictates how your organization can operate. If your organization, however, needs to function all over the world, if it needs the flexibility to adapt dynamically to mission specifications, then you need to explore the benefits of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Benefits

First, we must note: VDIs don’t replace all hardware as they need hardware on which to function. But they can provide a myriad of benefits to organizations who use them to their fullest. The easiest benefit to highlight is the cost savings. As mentioned in a article, VDIs use an estimated “60-70% less power than existing physical environments.” On top of that, VDIs offer cost (and time) savings when updates are required. No longer do you have to go to each physical machine and run updates. VDIs update through their software, meaning they all update at once. Some call this “future proof”.

Another key VDI benefit is its sandboxed nature. Open a browser in a VDI, for example, and if some malicious code gets through, it’s trapped inside the framework of the VDI. This protects the host computer from a wide variety of attacks, but it’s not perfect. If you save files on a VDI, they go to the host computer. This can store files in unintended (or unwanted) places or expose the host computer (and, by extension, your entire network) to malware, viruses, and other nefarious bits of programming.

malware to vdi

There is a VDI solution out there that goes above and beyond—one that takes everything good about standard VDIs and adds some hearty doses of superpowers. If you need a VDI solution created with total mission success in mind, then you need a VDI powered by Fognigma.

Fognigma’s Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Added Benefits

Fognigma VDIs have all the features of a standard VDI (sandboxed, cost savings, etc.), but add capabilities not found anywhere else. Let’s explore some of the most important capabilities and prove why VDIs powered by Fognigma is the best choice for your organization.

Unlike standard VDIs, Fognigma VDIs have the ability to save and move files without involving the host computer. Files can transfer to and from USB drives and the VDI and the host computer will never retain a record of anything. VDI audio is filtered to ensure no IP leaks occur. In short (and to paraphrase a slogan), what exists in a Fognigma VDI stays in a Fognigma VDI.

secure usb to host vdi



There are even more special ways Fognigma VDIs can interact with files. Using our Nomadic Profile ability, files will follow authenticated users from VDI instance to VDI instance. Launch and log into a VDI and save files to the VDI’s desktop. The next time you launch a VDI and log in, your files will be on that desktop, too! As a complement to this Nomadic ability, Fognigma VDIs can use a shared server folder which adds drag-and-drop file sharing between multiple concurrent VDI instances. Take your files with you and share with your team all from the safety of a VDI.

Fognigma VDIs can also be tailored to the organization and individual user. Install custom apps if needed or limit the access of apps or features users can employ. Perhaps your organization has a squad that just needs to collect information—let them access a VDI with just a file share attached. Basically, VDIs allow for de facto Identity and Access Management by allowing admins to select the exact type of VDI (and, therefore, accessible apps) each user is able to launch.

The biggest unique feature of a Fognigma VDI, however, is the ability of anonymous world travel and web browsing. This is actually a fun way to describe a bunch of related features. Fognigma VDIs allow you to explore the Internet fully anonymous and appear to be in almost any location on the planet. So, if you need to look like a user in Germany, you can launch a VDI with an exit point (i.e., where the IP address appears to be) in Germany. But Fognigma VDI exit points are dynamically switchable, so in a few mice clicks that same VDI can now appear to exist in, for example, Japan. Plus, you can launch VDIs from almost any device anywhere in the world. These features all work together to allow your users to become part of any web-landscape in any geographic region, without raising suspicion.

As you can see, Fognigma VDIs strive to be the pinnacle of virtual desktop technology and they are always evolving (one of the latest updates sped our VDIs to almost 50% faster than standard VDIs). To learn more about our amazing VDI solutions or to schedule a demonstration, please contact us today.